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Constraints and flexibility in early quantification

Dr. Lisa Feigenson

Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Johns Hopkins University, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

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The act of quantification (e.g.,  knowing how many objects are in a scene) requires selecting a relevant entity and storing it in working memory for further processing.  Critically, multiple kinds of entities can be selected and stored.  In this talk I offer evidence that humans can represent at least three different levels of entities in working memory.  They can represent an individual object (e.g., "that bird").  They can represent a collection of items (e.g., "that flock of birds").  And they can represent a set of discrete items (e.g., "the set containing Bird A, Bird B, and Bird C").  Each of these different ways of representing a scene permits a different type of quantificational processing.  Storing individual objects in working memory permits exact but implicit representation of the number of objects present, up to a maximum of 3 objects.  Storing collections of items in working memory permits explicit but inexact representation of the number of items present, with no in principle upper limit.  And storing sets of individual items permits exact implicit representation of the number of items present, with an upper limit that has yet to be empirically specified.  Hence, which quantity-relevant computations may be performed in any given situation depends on which level of representation is stored.  This framework for thinking about interactions between working memory and quantification applies throughout development, starting in infancy.

Dr. Lisa Feigenson